On Valentine’s Day the venerable New York Times, ran a piece about how to handle heartbreak on this particularly charged day of the year. As a sensitive soul, and someone who quite often sucks at the messier aspects of life, I was interested in how these ‘experts’ have dealt with what is surely one of the most painful (and universal) emotional experiences a human can have in their lifetime. Some of the overarching themes include the healing power of baths, of escaping, of not escaping, of sugary food and crying. And of course, letting time, that great healer, work its magic.
Dan Savage, American media personality known for his no-nonsense advice, prescribes wallowing in the awfulness of it all for two weeks and then snapping out of it. Fake happiness to feel better and when your bruised heart has healed a little, go for the rebound. That’s what he did and he ended up marrying his.
Chilean writer Isabel Allende takes a tougher stance. She advocates eliminating the lover completely from one’s life, not even mentioning their name. When the door is completely closed, she then heals herself slowly with a combination of cuddling her dog, eating chocolate and taking long baths. In her own words, “I believe that everything changes in two years. A broken heart either kills you or heals within in two years. It’s usually the latter.”
Writer Dinaw Mengetsu is a fan of fleeing. Far, far away. The further the better, as that way, there won’t be all those reminders of your loved one to rub salt into your wound. However, it’s also a time for being alone and regrouping. As he says, “And if you have traveled far enough, you will know for certain that nothing and no one is coming to save you; this grief is yours alone to revel in.”
Writer Alexandra Fuller has advice for the ‘heartbruised’ (which is not as severe as heartbreak). Her tips are practical and specific: make a soundtrack that can both empower and let you wallow. Get outside and volunteer with animals. Stay the hell away from social media. Indulge in British dramas – because apparently the British have an aversion to portraying love, so it’s a safe option.
Comedian Chris Gethard (?!) tells a story about how he dealt with his latest heartbreak – an eventful trip to Brazil involving Rio nightclubs, celebrities, art, dodgy street food and reflection. As he puts it, “Which is a long way of saying: Take it easy on yourself, make a lot of mistakes, and go as far as you need to in order to see your situation with some clarity.”
Actress and writer Isabel Gillies knows what she’s talking about. I read her two memoirs – the first about her husband leaving her and their two young boys for his coworker (major scandal at snooty Oberlin College where they all worked), and the second which outlined her struggle to mend her broken heart and eventually remarry and become deliriously happy once again. Ever the optimist, Ms. Gillies thinks that having a broken heart is good because: “You find out what you are made of when you have a broken heart. If it happens early and often, all the better. You will unearth your grit, your ingenuity and resolve. As brutal and unrelenting as it is, if you are broken hearted, it means that you have loved and loved big.” She recommends physical exercise, baths, jelly donuts and gaining perspective via National Geographic. Finally, she states that: “While you might not be able to see clearly when you are heartbroken, something good is usually right around the corner, so the best idea is to keep rocking on.”
This next one is an interesting case. Helen Fisher is an anthropologist and relationship expert who has studied the physical aspects of love in the manner of a scientist and the emotional and mental aspects. She advocates treating it like an addiction which requires the removal of all reminders and triggers. No contact. Instead, get out and exercise. Do new things with new people. Play, meditate, smile, and above all, be patient. As the scientist in her says, “Time heals, because the activity gradually subsides in a brain region linked with attachment. In a study I did last year, 57 percent of singles said they recovered within three months of a breakup. We are built to love, and love again.”
Foodie Shayma Saadat tells a story of her move to Rome for work – she had ended a relationship before she moved, and recounts her first few days there which transformed from being lonely, depressed and heartbroken to momentarily happy as she hosted a dinner party with her new landlady, cooking favorite dishes and feeling connected with others through the joy of food. “That meal that began in heartbreak reminded me of all the good things in life,” she concludes.
Online dating guru Christian Rudder says dating is essentially a numbers game. “When your heart is broken — and I say when, not if, because it happens to all of us — take solace in the undilutable wonder of infinity. No matter how many people you’ve met, there is whole world of others still out there. The next number, it just might be your lucky one. All you have to do is keep going.” Not sure if I agree with this, but it does give a sense of that most precious thing in times of heartache – hope.
Tracy McMillian, who is considered a relationship expert in part to her own ample experience, has the last word. Her Zen advice goes against some of what the other commentators have said. Her view is that heartbreak is grief and grief doesn’t need distraction. Instead, it needs to be dealt with, not suppressed. This is done by staying in the present moment where lessons can be learned and moving on can be more authentic. “Yes, there will be moments of intense pain. But they will pass relatively quickly. Suffering is often caused more by the fear of what life will be without the relationship, or nostalgia for what has been lost — both essentially fantasies. Staying present also helps you learn what you need to learn — breakups always, always contain lessons — so when you are ready to move on, it can be to something better.”